SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A girl at the center of the medical and religious debate over brain death has died after surgery in New Jersey, her mother said Thursday.
Nailah Winkfield said doctors declared her daughter Jahi McMath dead from excessive bleeding and liver failure after an operation to treat an intestinal issue.
McMath had been in a vegetative state since December 2013, when a California coroner ruled that the 13-year-old girl died after suffering irreversible brain damage during an operation to remove her tonsils.
Winkfield refused to accept the conclusion and moved the girl to New Jersey, where she has been kept on life support and received care. The state accommodates religions that don’t recognize brain death.
“Jahi wasn’t brain dead or any kind of dead,” Winkfield said. “She was a girl with a brain injury and she deserved to be cared for like any other child who had a brain injury.”
Winkfield acknowledged her daughter’s dire medical condition but said her Christian beliefs compelled her to fight for care because the girl occasionally showed physical signs of life by twitching her finger or wriggling her toe.
Winkfield obtained a court order keeping McMath briefly on life support in California then used money she raised online to take the girl in a private jet to New Jersey.
Winkfield and her lawyers had been trying to rescind the California death certificate as part of a medical malpractice lawsuit filed against Children’s Hospital in Oakland. In refusing to throw out the lawsuit last year, a judge ruled that it was up to a jury to determine if the girl was still alive.
Attorney Chris Dolan said the New Jersey death certificate eliminated that argument, but he and Winkfield are still debating whether to continue the fight and possibly set a precedent so other religious families don’t have to go through the same situation.
Children’s Hospital lawyers had argued that the family did not subject McMath to tests accepted by the American Medical Association to determine brain death.
Dolan says new technology has made traditional tests to diagnose brain death obsolete.